Picky Cat Probs? Here′s What to Do for a Finicky Eater

Picky Cat Probs? Here′s What to Do for a Finicky Eater

Find out why felines can be finicky eaters — and how you can feed your picky cat to help keep him or her happy AND healthy.

If your cat is a picky eater, it can be tempting to assume that he or she just has a bit of a cattitude problem. But it′s also quite possible there′s another reason.  

Most of the potential culprits behind a picky cat are no reason to panic, but it′s important to address the issue ASAP — especially if your cat won′t eat at all. More on that below. 

Start here to find the right cat food for picky eaters of all kinds. 

When to Hurry to the Vet 

First things first: If it′s been two days since your cat has eaten, call a vet right away. You should also seek immediate medical attention for your kitty if he or she stops eating and shows any of these symptoms: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Lethargy 
  • Difficulty breathing 

These could be signs of a number of diseases, including a very serious one called hepatic lipidosis, a.k.a. fatty liver syndrome.  

If your cat has just started showing a loss of appetite and has no other symptoms, you may not need to rush to the vet. But do be proactive and make that appointment, keeping in mind the tips below. 

What NOT to Do If Your Cat Won′t Eat  

Some ideas that may seem logical at the surface could actually be dangerous to your cat. Here are a few mistakes to avoid. 

  • Don′t wait. You may think your cat will eat when he or she is hungry enough, but even just a day or two of not eating could actually trigger hepatic lipidosis in your cat. Ironically, the risk is even higher for cats who are overweight.  
  • Don′t substitute human food. Sure, it looks more appetizing to us, and it may pique your cat′s interest. But human food is not complete and balanced for the feline body, so it won′t provide adequate nutrition for your cat. And some people foods are actually harmful to cats
  • Don′t leave wet food out all day. If you want to keep some food sitting out for your cat to nibble on throughout the day, be sure to either use dry food or replace the wet food often. Wet food will dry out and lose its texture and aroma if opened and unrefrigerated for too long. And after that unpleasant impression, your cat may start refusing that type of food altogether. 
  • Don′t continue to offer the same food your cat is refusing to eat. It′s important to figure out the reason your cat won′t eat it, and if it′s because he or she doesn′t feel well, providing the same option over and over could lead to a lifelong aversion to that food. Try a new food or flavor to see if a change can inspire your cat′s appetite. 

So, what can you feed a picky cat to fix the problem fast? The truth is there′s no single, universal best cat food for picky cats. But with some effort, you can find the best food for your picky cat. 

First, you′ll need to find the answer to the underlying question … 

Why Is My Cat Not Eating Enough? 

Oh how many cat parents have asked themselves this question. Below are some possible answers. 

A Misperception of What′s ′′Enough′′ 

Even if your cat doesn′t like to eat much at once, that may be OK, as long as the sum of all his or her nibbles throughout the day add up to the recommended daily amount on the package.  

Meals You Don′t See 

If your cat is an outdoor cat, it′s possible he or she is supplementing the cat food you provide with some self-caught wild prey. 

Physical Illness  

Like humans, cats often lose their appetite when something is physically wrong. So there are a wide range of illnesses and conditions that could disrupt your cat′s eating habits, including minor infections.  

For example, a feline upper respiratory infection (URI) is similar to the common cold in humans. A URI or other illness that involves the nasal passages can also affect your cat′s sense of smell, which affects his or her appetite. 

More serious possibilities include pancreatitis, bladder infections, kidney disease and even cancer, If you suspect a problem or have already ruled out simpler causes, it′s best to see a vet. 


While not exactly an illness, hairballs certainly aren′t pleasant (for you or for your cat). Not surprisingly, they can cause your cat to lose his or her appetite. If hairballs are a problem for your cat, be sure to brush his or her coat often to remove loose fur, and talk to your vet about possible supplements or medications that may help. Also consider trying a specialized hairball control cat food

Motion Sickness  

Yep, cats get motion sickness, too. So your cat may not be interested in food right after you′ve been traveling, even just for a short car ride. Motion sickness is most common in cats who aren′t used to car rides and get anxious when they happen. The good news is, a motion-sick cat′s appetite should come back shortly after his or her sense of equilibrium goes back to normal. 

Trouble Chewing 

Unfortunately, gum and dental problems are common in cats, and they often get more advanced with age. Especially for an old cat, picky eater probs could stem from tooth or gum pain, which should be treated by a vet. Sometimes teeth even need to be removed, and then the appetite comes roaring back.  

In some cases, the best cat food for picky older cats (or any cat with dental disease!) is a soft, wet cat food. In particular, a cat paté may be easiest for some cats to eat.  

Recent Vaccination 

Vaccinating your cat is not only safe but also important. Still, it can have some side effects, including a temporary loss of appetite. Your cat′s normal appetite should return within a day or two of vaccination.  

In the meantime, consider offering a different type of food to help prevent your cat from associating that stressful time with his or her normal food (which could lead to a lasting aversion). 

A New Food — Introduced Too Fast 

If you′ve recently switched your cat to a new food and he or she isn′t having it, that doesn′t necessarily mean your cat will be a finicky eater forever. The change may have just happened too quickly for him or her to adjust. Every cat is different, but many cats need to transition gradually.  
Instead of switching all at once, start by mixing a little bit of the new food into your cat′s usual food. Then increase the proportion a little more every day, over the course of at least seven days.  

Mental & Emotional Health 

Cats may have a reputation for being aloof, but you already know they have big feelings. And stress, anxiety or depression can affect feline appetites. What might be stressing your cat out, you ask? It could be a number of things, including conflicts with other pets in the house, the loss or addition of a family member (animal or human), or a recent change in his or her routine or surroundings. Even moving the food bowl to a different spot in your home can be stressful for some cats. 

Negative Associations 

Have you ever eaten something you loved, then gotten sick and decided you never wanted that food again? Or maybe you ate chicken soup while you were sick, and now smelling or tasting it reminds you of how bad you felt the last time you had it.  

The same type of thing can happen to cats. They can sometimes develop aversions to certain foods because they associate those foods with unpleasant experiences, such as illness or injury, or unusual events, like a storm or an earthquake.  

Simple Preference 

OK, OK, there isn′t ALWAYS a mysterious underlying reason that makes a cat a finicky eater. Many cats just have strong preferences. Those preferences tend to form young but can also change over time.  

Do cats get tired of the same food day after day? Some cats do! And who could blame them, right? 

On the other hand, if your cat has only ever had one type of food, he or she may have formed a preference for that kind and only that kind. So if you′re caring for your cat from a young age, you might want to feed him or her a few different foods and different forms (pȃté, dry kibble, chunks and gravy, etc.) in a rotation to prevent finicky eating habits from forming in the first place.  

Either way, once you figure out what your cat likes, it′ll be much easier to please your picky eater while also providing as much variety as he or she craves 

What to Do If Your Cat Is a Picky Eater 

Now that you′ve identified some possible reasons behind the pickiness, take action accordingly:  

  • If illness or trouble chewing seems to be to blame, a vet visit is in order.  
  • If a new food triggered the issue, return to the food your cat is used to and try the transition again, more gradually. 
  • If stress, a negative association, or a simple preference seems to be the problem, finding the solution may take some trial and error.  
Try these tips when experimenting to find the best food for your picky kitty: 
  • Experiment with different flavors, textures and shapes — especially wet food. Wet cat food more closely resembles meat and is more aromatic, so it stimulates cats′ appetites. 
  • Make sure dry cat food packages haven′t been open for more than a month. Sitting open too long could cause the food to become stale or rancid. 
  • If serving wet food, put out just a little bit at a time, four or five times a day. This allows your cat to eat at his or her own pace without as much risk of uneaten food sitting out long enough to go bad. 
  • Praise and pet your cat when serving food. If your cat loves attention and making you happy, it only makes sense that showing a little extra TLC at mealtime will help encourage eating. 

Find the Best Cat Food for Your Picky Cat  

Meow Mix® cat food varieties include a wide range of delicious tastes and textures, and they all provide complete and balanced nutrition for cats at the life stage(s) listed on the packaging. So you can find a food that helps keep your cat both happy AND healthy.  

Check out these popular options that even picky cats tend to love:  

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